At first, Scott McCord thought the boxes contained trash and nearly tossed them out, writes G.W. Schulz in the new Reveal series, Left for Dead: Inside America’s Coldest Cases, from the Center for Investigative Reporting. It was 2008 and McCord, a paramedic for more than 25 years, had just been elected coroner of northwestern Indiana’s Newton County, current population 14,156.
When McCord lifted the tops to look inside, he found human bones and a slip of paper with an Indiana State Police case number.
The bones in the boxes belonged to two young murder victims of serial killer Larry Eyler, Schulz writes in Part 5 of the series. They had never been identified. McCord later learned more: Two other Eyler victims also remained unnamed in the Indiana counties of Jasper and Hendricks.
While Eyler is largely forgotten today, his trial was highly publicized at the time, Schulz reports. Convicted in 1986 for the murder of a 15-year-old boy, he eventually died on death row in 1994 of AIDS-related complications.
Based on Eyler’s own confessions, authorities today believe he killed at least 22 people. As many as six victims, two of whom are believed to be from Illinois, remain unidentified today.
They are among a national list of more than 10,000 people found deceased without an identity. The FBI estimates there are some 80,000 people missing in the U.S. on any given day.
Details about the missing and unidentified dead are recorded in NamUs, a growing but voluntary federal database housed at the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas in Fort Worth.
Members of the public can search the database and alert investigators to possible matches. NamUs contains thousands of clues, including locations, dates, physical descriptions, photographs taken post-mortem and more. Ultimately, authorities then must decide whether to take the next step and compare DNA or dental records.
But the Reveal investigation found that neglect, indifference and a lack of will or resources dedicated by police, coroners, medical examiners and others still hinder identifications. Law enforcement agencies at times have let solvable cold cases languish, only to have private citizens piece together answers on their own.
To read G.W. Schulz’s Part 5 of Left for Dead: Inside America’s Coldest Cases on the Reveal site, please click here.
To watch I-News reporter Katie Kuntz’s story on a vexing Boulder County John Doe, developed in collaboration with Reveal, please click here.
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey and others discuss the complexity of such cases on Colorado State of Mind. Please click here.